Trip to Toledo- a walk into history

Mirador, Toledo, Spain
Panoramic view from the Mirador Del Valle
The Historic city of Toledo is one of the most popular day-trip destinations from Madrid. With a history spanning over two millennia, it is one of the most ancient cities of the world and was declared by UNESCO as a world heritage site in 1986. I loved how organized the transport to nearby regions are from Madrid- there are high-speed trains every hour which go directly to Toledo in 30 minutes, frequent public buses which usually take an hour and there are these private tour buses which organize day trips to Toledo. Being first-time tourists to Europe we decided to take the tourist bus which includes a guided walking tour and panorama view. It costs five euros more than the train but is completely worth it. Our guide, Rachel was very friendly and talked about the city's history while she took us on the walking tour.
We bought the tickets at one of the many counters at Plaza de Espana in Madrid but you can pre-book it online as well -https://www.madridcitytours.com/city-guide/

The Medieval Wall and the Modern Escalators


Toledo Wall, Spain
The Wall
As soon as we disembarked the bus we were thrilled at the sight of the old buildings clamped atop the hill and ruins of the great wall that once surrounded the city (although most of the ancient walls are still intact). Quoting the signboard on the ruins-
"the wall of Toledo shapes the urban landscape of the city since its origins.. its strategic importance determined the construction of one of the most fortified complex systems in the Middle Ages of Europe" 
The fortified city is at an elevation 614 ft where you can reach in no time thanks to the series of escalators raised along the ancient walls of the city. The ambiance is heightened by live music played by amazingly talented artists as you rise through the walls and enter the city.


McDonald's Square and the market

Damascene Jewelry, Toledo
Men at work - creating the Damascene Jewelry
Even for a non-shopper like me, the market with some of its unique Toledian offerings has its own allure- Damascene jewelry, ornamented swords and knives, and special almond based desserts called Marzipan. We walked through the throbbing market area which was all decked up for some festival until we entered the narrow stone pavements with stone walls on both sides almost transporting us to a different era. Being a big-time Game of Thrones fan, I could totally see myself walking into the King's Landing of Westeros.
Some history (courtesy our lovely guide Rachel and a little bit of internet search)
Toledo is known as the city of three cultures as for centuries during medieval period it was home to people of three different religions - the Jews, the Christians and the Muslims who co-inhabited in the same place in harmony. Well, harmony, unfortunately, is not a permanent state in a world full of conflict - there were wars, there were forced conversions, expulsion and even extermination. In the 15th century, the Roman Catholics put an end to the co-existence of several faiths by enforcing Christian faith and expelling Jews from the land.


The Toledo Cathedral ... and the others

Toledo Cathedral
Toledo Cathedral - the main facade
Also called, Catedral Primada or the Primate Cathedral of Saint Mary is a twelfth-century masterpiece of French Gothic architecture. It was built for 266 years. The north tower of the cathedral hosts the famous "Fat Bell", which is one of the largest bells in the world but is never rung. There is much folklore about what happened when the bell was the first rung- some say that all the windows of the buildings across the city collapsed, while some even say that all pregnant women who came to see the ceremony had pre-mature delivery at the instant!
The other section of the facade is the Baroque dome of Mozarabic chapel. It stands in place of the second tower that was planned but not built due to shifting ground. The main entrance is named portal of the lions after the lion sculptures adorning it.
Unfortunately, we could not enter the temple as we ran short of time, and I seriously regret this. A monument built for over two and a half centuries should never be missed.
The building facing the cathedral is the Town hall of Toledo, which houses the members of the city council. Its construction is said to have begun in the late 16th century and it was completed in 1703.
Town Hall
Facing the cathedral on the other side is the Archbishop's palace built in the 13th century, but despite its historical significance is easily overshadowed by the Gothic Cathedral. Basically, three of the most iconic monuments of Toledo are clamped in this small triangular space

Jewish Quarter


Our next stop was the Jewish quarter- a neighborhood of Jewish people in the medieval ages. Characterized by extremely narrow cobbled streets and medieval styled buildings, this place has a very romantic ambiance in general. The most famous monument here is Santa Maria la Blanca, which is a former synagogue - a Jewish place of worship.

Plaza de Salvador

Plaza de Salvador
A church built upon what was initially a mosque in the ninth century. After the conquest of Toledo, the mosque was turned into a church in the early 12th century. The interiors are said to have significant Moorish influences. Well, we did not have the time to enter this church as well :(

Half-time!

Our guided walking tour ended at the first panoramic viewpoint near the site of Plaza de Salvador. From here we could see some of the most famous places of Toledo including the Monastery and the Museum of El Greco, the most celebrated artist of Toledo. This is where we took a lunch break after which would have some free time to explore the city. The buffet spread for lunch included the Spanish special, Paella with prawns, roasted chicken, salad, pasta, and soup.

Monastery of San Juan De Los Reyes


Our first stop after lunch was the famous Monastery of San Juan De Los Reyes. The beautiful Gothic style monument was commissioned by "Catholic monarchs", Queen Isabella and her husband King Ferdinand II to commemorate the birth of their son and their victory in the Battle of Toro against Portugal in the 15th century. The main facade building is adorned with exquisite sculptures of chained saints which represent the Christians who were imprisoned by the Moors. On the other side is the church facing the river Tagus.


San Juan Monastery, Toledo, Spain
The beautiful monastery

We walked into the monastery and walked up the stairs to the church and then walked down to the garden beneath until we could finally see the river. Walking on this historical bridge was my best experience in Toledo, I would put it in the city tourism's top things to do list.

Walking on the bridges

Walking on the beautiful ancient bridges across the Tajo river is the best thing to do in Toledo. I loved that the bridges were not crowded as I expected them to be. Tagus or Tajo is the longest river in the Iberian peninsula and has been the lifeline of Toledo for ages. The beautiful medieval bridges across built across the river take you to a different world. We walked on the bridge closest to the monastery, the San Martin bridge, which was constructed in the 14th century. The bridge has 5 arches the largest one at the center spanning 40m and is fortified on both sides with towers. The most famous bridge in Toledo is the Puente de Alcantara, which was first built in the Roman era. For those looking for some adventure, there are zip-lining activities conducted near the river.
San Martin Bridge, Toledo, Spain
Posing at San Martin Bridge

Time to return to Present

On our way back to the bus stop we walked around the street soaking in the spirit of this historical city. There are innumerable sword shops showcasing the Toledian steel- a special lightweight but sturdy steel which was in high demand across the western world during the medieval ages. Iconic Hollywood movies like Gladiator and We entered a shop where an artisan was making Damascene jewelry and demonstrated the procedure to us. It's amazing to see such skilled people at work- putting the fine gold threads on iron and hammering it on the intricate design without any visual aid.
We spent some time at the garden near the escalators before we descended down the enchanting walls of the city to the bus stop.
The Infantry Academy - the Training center of the Spanish Army located at Toledo

The Bonus!

As we set off on the double-decker tourist bus to return, we thought that our trip was over for the day. But the bus drove uphill and took us to several panoramic viewpoints of the city - the most famous one being Mirador del Valle. You can see all the famous monuments of the city on the other side of the river, including the Alcazar.
Panorama view of Toledo, Spain from Mirador
Another stunning view from Mirador doesn't it look like a drone shot of King's Landing

What if we could spend a night or two in Toledo

Needless to say, this is one of the most beautiful cities I saw in my euro-trip and those 5-6 hours we spent at Toledo wasn't enough to explore to our satisfaction. I can only imagine what a romantic evening it would be to just look at the sunset view from one of those bridges and walk on the narrow cobbled streets after that. Here's why you should choose to stay in Toledo for 1 night at least (sad that we didn't)

Cheap hotels and hostels, with a double bedroom in a budget hotel starting from $31 booking.com

Photography or simply treat to eyes! Watch some of the most stunning views of the sunset on the riverside. I'm still drooling over some of the Instagram photos I checked out after I returned

Enter the Toledo Cathedral. The entry fee is cheap but it takes time to explore a grand historic monument like the Toledo Cathedral or the monastery. We wanted to get a holistic view of the city in those few hours we spent there, so skipped entering any of those.

Check out El Greco Museum to know more about the artists behind the scenes that you see all around

Hope you enjoyed taking this virtual journey to Toledo with me. Have you been to Toledo? Is there anything I missed writing about, or any interesting trivia you know? Do share your thoughts in the comments section and read what else we did in the remaining two days in Madrid and On our trip to Europe 
Here is another virtual walking tour for you- Antwerp- The Diamond Capital of the world 



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Comments

  1. I can see why this town is such a popular day trip. The architecture is absolutely stunning! And I am really partial to towns along rivers. This place really just looks so perfect.

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  2. Toledo sounds like a city that knows how to make an impact on a visitor. I live the folklore behind the fat bell and could definitely get down with some marzipan.

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  3. I will be in Spain in October. I have never heard of this place but now I’m sure going to try to add it to our itinerary. Great information. It sounds like a wonderful place.

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  4. You did a great job of making us feel like we took the tour along with you. Thanks for taking the extra time to share all of the details and the great photography! I have a friend who loves to travel to Spain, but she has never mentioned this place. I"ll let her know about your article.

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  5. Hi Teresa,
    So happy to know that you liked those details. Thank you so much for your time, part of me used to think the details might be boring to many.

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  6. It seems like such an interesting, historical place to visit. I love that there is so many transportation options to get there!

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  7. Thanks for taking me along on your trip to Toledo. Fascinating history and interesting to learn about the different cultures that co-existed together. Having a local guide always helps to understand the local culture better. Stunning architecture and great photography.

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  8. The architecture is seriously stunning, so is that viewpoint! I didnt realize it was so easily accessible from Madrid!

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